First published on Schools Matter on July 05, 2012
"We had an African American woman walk up to us and say 'why do you need Ethnic Studies?', and we looked at each other and said, 'that's exactly why we need Ethnic Studies!'" — Santee Students speaking at PLAS protest.
It would be a mistake to think the absolutely tragic stream of bigoted and racist legislation flowering in Arizona is confined to Arizona alone. Sadly, one of the most egregious perpetrators removing access to ethnic studies and heritage language programs in this country isn't Michael Hicks, Tom Horne, or John Huppenthal, but a privately managed organization called Partnership for Los Angeles Schools (PLAS) founded by the vehemently anti-public education Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa.
PLAS' latest attack comes in the form of killing the only Ethnic Studies program at the culturally diverse South Los Angeles Santee High School. The announcement shook the community, given the program's popularity and importance in a community desperate to retain its identity and dignity. The following video was taken at a demonstration held in front of PLAS headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. The protest was held by community activists in order to save both the Ethnic Studies program and the program's leader — Social Justice Educator Ron Gochez.
At the heart of the decision is a vindictive reprisal against Social Justice Educator Ron Gochez by Mayor Villaraigosa. Gochez drew Villaraigosa's ire by running for Los Angeles City Council District 9, and — as a principled social justice activist — by being a constant thorn in the Mayor's side. Gochez has been one of the activists instrumental in the Southern California Immigration Coalition and National Lawyer Guild's stand against the Mayor and his cronies seizing and selling the automobiles of undocumented peoples. We've even held demonstrations in front of the Mayor's lavish mansion. Here's an announcement of one such protest:
To protest the continued confiscation of undocumented people's cars. The police continue to use minor violations as a pretext to pull over undocumented drivers and take away their vehicles. Police have repeatedly targeted immigrant communities to establish patrols in areas that are designed not to deter traffic violations but provide a pretext for stopping suspected unlicensed drivers, including in front of schools as parents drop off their children. These stops are tantamount to racial profiling as they repeatedly target immigrants who in many instances have committed no crime.
Ultimately Mayor Villaraigosa's political payback effects not just Gochez, but his students, Santee High School, and the South Los Angeles community as a whole.
The initial decision was surreptitiously announced by one of Villaraigosa's education henchman, ex-Green Dot Schools Corporation flunky Marshall Tuck. Tuck has been PLAS' CEO since the privately managed organization began. Eliminating the only Ethnic Studies program at Santee High School is tantamount to cultural sterilization. Such politically motivated attacks are both racist and ethnocentric. PLAS' Marshal Tuck, Doc Ervin, Angela Bass, Joan Sullivan, and Ricardo Ruiz have a long history of these types of attacks on our communities.
The decision to rob Santee's impoverished students of color of their chance to learn about their culture and history follows on the heels of PLAS killing heritage language programs at two of their other schools. Four years ago they banned the Dual Language Program and the Academic English Mastery Program at Ritter Elementary School, and two years ago they banned the teaching of core subjects in Spanish at Roosevelt High School as they had had as a response to the activism of the famous East Los Angeles Blowouts in 1968.
I asked United Teachers of Los Angeles' Director of Bilingual Education, Cheryl Ortega, for full details on program elimination:
This is the first I've heard of eliminating ethnic studies at Santee, but it makes me think a lot about Tuck and PLAS banning the Dual Language Program and the Academic English Mastery Program at Ritter 4 years ago. Tuck and his people, Doc Ervin, Angela Bass and Ricardo Ruiz worked very hard to pit the Latino and the African-American communities against each other at Ritter instead of promoting unity. It was shameful.
Two years ago Marina Salas, chair of the Bilingual Ed Committee, and I visited Roosevelt HIgh, a PLAS school, at the request of the CC and the ESL teachers. They were outraged that they were no longer permitted to teach core subjects in Spanish as they had done for a generation. If an English Learner takes a math course, for instance, in Spanish, the student will receive credit for the A-G. The same student could take the math class in English and receive the same A-G credit if he/she passes the course which is unlikely because of the language challenge. So the EL student is put in a general math class which, although, is just a rigorous from a language perspective, is a lower level math class which does not generate A-G credit. So dozens of kids, many newcomers, perfectly competent to take algebra or chemistry cannot get graduation credit for those classes. PLAS has denied thousands of EL students access to core curriculum because of their limited English skills. The year before that, PLAS eliminated the Dual Language Program and the AEMP program at Ritter ES in Watts in spite of parent protests. The people that the mayor has running PLAS, Marshall Tuck, Doc Ervin, and formerly Angela Bass, are, at best, completely insensitive, and, at worst, purposely undermining the chances of student success in minority communities. I always felt that the mayor had distanced himself from the actual running of PLAS, leaving it in the hands of these people.
I would opt for they are "purposely undermining the chances of student success in minority communities." The elimination of the only Ethnic Studies program at the culturally diverse Santee is further proof of the cultural genocide that PLAS inflicts on the most needy children in Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).
Fighting this type of sophisticated racism is just as important as the struggle against the outright ignorant racism of Michael Hicks, Tom Horne, or John Huppenthal. PLAS is part and parcel Villaraigosa and his wealthy cadre of school privatizers' pet project. For a Latino Mayor, who is on record for rightfully criticizing Arizona for it's nativist bigotry, to allow the same thing to go on in his own schools is the height of hypocrisy.
Stop cultural genocide! Contact the following and demand that PLAS retain the Ethnic Studies program at Santee High School and that social justice educator Ron Gochez be restored to his position.
Honorable Antonio Villaraigosa
Mayor of Los Angeles
200 N. Main St. Rm 303
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Deputy Mayor on Education
Office of the Mayor
200 N. Main St. Rm 303
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Cheif Executive Officer
Partnership for Los Angeles Schools
1541 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90017